At the end of February, Sevilla were challenging for the title and dark horses for the Champions League under the stewardship of Jorge Sampaoli. His breathtakingly intense and gung-ho approach had placed the Andalusians in a very good position towards the latter end of the campaign to enjoy a successful season.
Performances might have dropped, but they were still grinding out wins, a hallmark of a winning team. How things have changed in the month of March.
Sampaoli’s side have now gone five League games without a win and were knocked out of the Champions League by Leicester City, a tie in which they missed two penalties and various other opportunities. Los Rojiblancos are now in fourth position, fighting with Atletico Madrid for an automatic Champions League place.
There have been a number of explanations provided for Sevilla’s slump, whether it is fatigue, a lack of composure in front of goal or because teams now know how to combat a style of play that was very unfamiliar earlier in the season.
On Sunday at the Sanchez Pizjuan, they faced a Sporting Gijon side who came for a point, and got exactly that. They defended deep, absorbed the relentless pressure and when the Andalusians did break through, Ivan Cuellar was there to ensure the stalemate. There was one particularly impressive save from a Vitolo shot, but he was let off the hook by some poor finishing too, namely from Steven N’Zonzi.
"I do not see a lack of freshness, but we could not hit the target once we were in the opposition's half," Sampaoli told reporters after the match. "We must improve in regard to converting our chances. At other times of the year, we have played the same way and won, we have to go through this [downturn in form] at the moment, and we must move forward.”
Sampoli’s words are very true, and serve as a good reminder as to what his team have achieved this season - the Argentine’s impact was so huge that people seem to have forgot that he has replaced a man who won three consecutive Europa League titles and he also had to start the season with two of last year’s best players gone in Kevin Gameiro and Grzegorz Krychowiak.
On top of that, he has implemented a completely different style of play that is by no means an easy one to adjust to for any player, and still managed to compete with Real Madrid and Barcelona for the majority of the campaign.
Last night’s game at Camp Nou was another frustrating one- a first half masterclass from MSN put Barcelona 3-0 ahead, and even though Sevilla improved in the second half, it was far too little, far too late and means they continue on a downwards spiral.
With sporting director Monchi, the man responsible for the club’s most successful era in its history, set to depart this month, Sampaoli will be needed to steady the ship and continue the good results during the acclimatisation process. This downturn in form is natural for any team, and Sevilla really do need to turn it around soon, but the fact that they were in such a good position in the first place is an achievement in itself.